The Robert and Helen Cargo Collection of African-American quilts encompasses 156 quilts made by African American women primarily from Alabama. More than 32 quilt makers are represented in the collection, including folk artists Nora Ezell, Mary Lucas, Mary Maxtion, and Yvonne Wells. The quilts typically date from the late 20th century, but also include a number of significant pre-1950 works. Many were purchased directly from the makers, some of whom Dr. Cargo came to know well as he visited and photographed them at work in their homes.
Robert Cargo was a professor at the University of Alabama and owner of the Folk Art Gallery in Tuscaloosa. He began building his collection of Alabama quilts in the late 1950s after inheriting numerous quilts from his great-grandmother. He focused his efforts primarily on Alabama quilts and assembled a quilt collection that became widely regarded as one of the most important in the United States. After 1980, Cargo concentrated more on African American quilts from Alabama with a few examples from several other states of the Deep South.
Selected quilts from this collection have been exhibited at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, The National Humanities Center in North Carolina and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and are featured in a number of publications including "Quilts: A Living Tradition" by Robert Shaw. The quilts were given to the International Quilt Study Center in 2000.
View these quilts on the Collections database.